It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
The Spanish film "Intacto," like the recent Sundance entry "The Cooler," believes that luck is a commodity that can be given and received, won or lost, or traded away. Most people have ordinary luck, some have unusually good or bad luck, and then there is a character like Tomas (Leonardo Sbaraglia), who is the only survivor of an airplane crash, beating the odds of 237 million to 1. (I am not the statistician here, only the reporter.) The movie involves a man named Sam (Max von Sydow), who survived the Holocaust and now operates a remote casino at which rich people bet against his luck, usually unsuccessfully. So unshakable is his confidence that he will remove one bullet from a chamber holding six and then bet that he will not die. That he is alive to be a character in the movie speaks for itself.
Von Sydow, who in "The Seventh Seal" played a game of chess with Death, believes that he will lose his luck if the wrong person looks on his face at the wrong time, or takes his photograph. To guard himself, he must often sit in a closed room with a hood over his face. We wonder, but he does not tell us, if he thinks this is a high price to pay for good fortune. He has a young man named Federico (Eusebio Poncela) as his confederate; Federico also has good luck, and searches for others who have his gift. When Sam steals his luck, he goes searching for a protege of his own and finds Tomas.
The single-mindedness of these men assumes that winning at gambling is the most important thing in the world. Certainly there are gamblers who think so. Another of the Sundance entries, "Owning Mahowny," starred Philip Seymour Hoffman as a Toronto bank clerk who steals millions in order to fund his weekend getaways to Atlantic City and Las Vegas. He has a winning streak at roulette that in its intensity of focus has a kind of awesome power. In "The Cooler," William H. Macy plays a man whose luck is so bad that he is employed by a casino to merely rub up against someone in a winning streak; then his luck changes.
The two North American films are pretty straightforward in telling their stories. "The Cooler" involves an element of fantasy, but it involves the story, not the visual approach. "Intacto," directed by the talented young Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, is wilder visually, using the fractured narrative and attention-deficit camera style that can be effective or not, but often betrays a lack of confidence on the simple story level.